Wad Hamid

by nigelcrowe

Nigel Crowe

Review of: The doum tree of Wad Hamid

“Tomorrow, you will depart from our village, of this I am sure…” It is this sort of compelling language that drives Tayeb Salih’s The doum tree of Wad Hamid into the mind of the reader. Hailing from Sudan, Salih is viewed as one of the most important middle eastern writers of modern times, integrating the bitter, realist approach of his contemporaries with the decidedly more mystical elements of his peoples’ heritage.

In The doum tree of Wad Hamid, the reader is transported to the fictional Sudanese village of Wad Hamid, a place so stricken with horse flies that outsiders rarely (if ever) last more than a day before fleeing to from whence they came. Here we are regaled (in thanks to an unnamed old man) with the tale of the village’s most prized spiritual asset, the doum tree of Wad Hamid. Between presenting his audience of one with various individual’s accounts of the tree’s mystic nature, we are constantly being reminded by the old man that he is aware we will be leaving tomorrow, as no outsider can ever last more than one day amid the flies. Over the course of the short story, the insurmountable differences between the villagers and the outside world are made apparent; this divide is highlighted by a stark and surprising shift in apparent narrative perspective close to the end.

The way in which The doum tree of Wad Hamid is written serves not only in making it more engaging to the reader, but in further bringing to light the theme of separation between villagers and outsiders (namely, all those influenced by the colonial west). Opposed to being written in the classic, slightly removed formal styling of western writers, the story is presented as if the reader is being directly addressed by the old man, hearing for themselves the wisdom he has to verbally imbue upon his listener. This acts to hold the reader’s attention, whilst demonstrating one of the key cultural differences: the majority of information in villages such as Wad Hamid is not passed from one party to another through formal written language but through verbal recantation. As a result, outsiders rarely receive an accurate depiction of the thoughts and feelings of these people. Add to this the fact that no outsider can last more than a day in the village because of the horse flies, and a clear reason for the disconnect is presented. One would be hard pressed to conjecture that Salih is attempting to excuse this, rather, it appears he is trying to bring awareness to this ignorance and just how deeply it runs. This idea is supported by the volta near the end at which point it is made apparent that the reader was not receiving a first hand account by the old man, instead, the reader was simply reading the transcripts of an outsider who visited the village of Wad Hamid. This is logical, for given the disconnect made apparent over the course of the story, how could one possibly attain an authentic account from the old man himself?

The doum tree of Wad Hamid strikes a brilliant relationship between content and presentation. Rather than simply being a means by which to record and present information, Tayeb Salih employs written language as an artistic tool with which to accentuate his idea.

Bibliography

Salih, Tayeb. The doum tree of Wad Hamid. London: Heinemann Educational Books

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